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  • Tennessee knows what its weaknesses are, but at this point in the Dan Mullen era, Florida doesn’t have the weapons to make the home team pay.
By Ed McGrogan
September 17, 2018

Florida at Tennessee (+5.5)

Sat. 9/22, 7:00 p.m. ET

Three things you need to know before betting on Florida-Tennessee:

1. The lack of a pass rush doomed Tennessee in its season-opening loss to West Virginia and remained a concern for Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt after a 59-3 win over East Tennessee State in Week 2. But Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks is no Will Grier—not even close. In a 48-10 win over 1-2 Colorado State last week, Franks completed just eight passes after starting 0-6. If not for a 38-yard toss to Van Jefferson in the fourth quarter of a game that was already out of reach, Franks would have accounted for less than 100 yards through the air. Against Kentucky, which defeated Florida in Gainesville in Week 2, Franks threw 38 times and completed fewer than 50% of his throws, but his starting job still seems secure. “I think he knows that we have his back,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said on Saturday. “He doesn’t have a short leash, we’re going to play him.”

That vote of confidence should be music to Tennessee’s ears. While you can’t discern much from the Vols’ two most recent games—lopsided victories over East Tennessee State and UTEP—they surely used those pressure-free matchups to experiment with defensive packages and tactics. With its unremarkable crew of ends and linebackers, Tennessee should look to blitz Florida. But Franks’s lack of passing prowess may not force Pruitt’s hand on play calls.

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2. There was one significant takeaway from Tennessee's win over UTEP last week. Running back Ty Chandler showed no ill effects from a concussion he suffered against West Virginia. The sophomore ran for 158 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Chandler's performance stands out because Tennessee could have easily let the explosive running back recover, given its stable of capable rushers. The Volunteers' four-headed rotation of backs amounted for 345 total yards against the Miners.

While Florida’s calling card in recent years has been its defense, it has been gashed on the ground this season. Florida gave up 303 yards rushing to Kentucky—hardly an SEC powerhouse—and has ceded an average of 199 rushing yards over its first three games. Tennessee's offensive line issues, including a season-ending ACL injury to center Brandon Kennedy, could make Chandler and Co.’s task more difficult, but the Gators have yet to prove they can withstand a barrage on the ground.

3. Spread offenses have troubled Florida at times, so has the spread itself. The Gators have failed to cover in their last five SEC games and in eight of their last 10. But in terms of betting trends that point toward a Tennessee cover, the most glaring is Florida’s record ATS on the road in conference play: Since the beginning of the 2016 season, the Gators are just 1-6.

In his previous job at Mississippi State, Florida coach Dan Mullen wrung all he could out of the players he recruited to Starkville. Now that he is in Gainesville, Mullen will have a wealth of riches to mine from the state’s hotbed of talent. But he is presently working with Jim McElwain’s recruits, rather than the players he’d like to see in orange and blue. If anything, Florida’s name brand is leading to an overvaluation from Vegas. There are enough concerns for the Gators before their trip to Knoxville that, while they may win, they will not cover.

Pick: Tennessee +5.5

Confidence Level: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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